Vivian Maier: Pioneer of The Selfie
A version of this exclusive article first appeared in the pages of the 14th issue of ODDA Magazine.
When reading Vivian Maier’s story the most natural reaction is one of deep frustration. During her lifetime she was known as a nanny to those that knew her. It was only after her death in 2009 that her intuitive street photography took center stage.
Her body of work, which was discovered by accident when the writer John Maloof won her negatives in an auction. A treasure trove of a life’s work spanning over 40 years, that varied between street photography and self-portraiture (she’s been labelled by some as a pioneer of the selfie). Her images give us an insight not only into what society was like and the lives people led during the second half of the last century, but of her own journey and the freedom with which she experimented and expressed herself through a camera.
The approach and mood to her art was almost always one of humor. Not concerned with showcasing herself nor her subjects in a particularly flattering position. Her “selfies” did not focus on showing off anything in particular, but just appreciating and playing with any surface that provided her with a reflection, a moment.
Even in the color palette that runs throughout her later color photographs, she would mix and match overtly comical bright red and yellows, that would pop out in mundane objects like shoes, dresses or street signs, against the greyer tones of the city, where the stories she told always took place.
What it really boils down to when attempting to pin down why her work is so captivating, aside from her natural and self-taught technical skills with a camera, is one simple yet hugely important aspect. All those photographs she took in the streets of New York and Chicago as well as her self-portraits were taken for no other purpose than just to be taken, to be in that moment. She never cared for nor looked for any sort of recognition and clearly never even expected anyone to see them at all. This makes each and every single one of those frames found by Maloof and appreciated in countless exhibitions and retrospectives since then, the purest sort of art form you could hope to come across.
It also puts into stark perspective the current fasciation the world has with street photography, selfies images and most any other modern art form. Today our obsession to document absolutely everything via social media is not fueled by a genuine desire to record what we are seeing and experiencing. Its guided by our own egos, insecurities and an overpowering necessity to be recognized by others. It’s a creative dilemma we have yet to find a solution for.
A journalism & fashion communication graduate currently based in Madrid, Spain. Aside from working as a freelance fashion creative (photography, styling, direction & writing) he is a course director at IED Madrid.
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